I am sure that everyone across the House of Commons will want to join me in paying tribute to David Cairns, the Member of Parliament for Inverclyde, who, very sadly, died on Monday, aged just 44. I will always remember him as someone who was very quick-witted and sharply intelligent, and as someone who was an extremely kind and compassionate man. Not many people can claim to have come to this House only because legislation was passed to allow them to come here, but as a former Catholic priest that had to happen in his case, and the House was better off for that happening. I am sure that everyone will join me in sending our deepest condolences to his partner, his family and his many friends, and I know that his constituents, like many others, will miss his tireless work very much indeed.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks? David Cairns was a great parliamentarian and a good friend.
My hon. Friend is absolutely clear that the House of Commons has given a very clear view that prisoners should not have the vote and my own view is that prisoners should not have the vote. I think that we should do two things. First, we should be trying to reform the European Court, as we are doing; my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary is leading this charge to make sure that it does pay more attention to national judgments and national Parliaments. But at the same time we will have to consider our response to this issue, and I want it to be as close as possible to the clearly expressed will of the House of Commons.
I want to start by paying tribute to our much-loved colleague David Cairns. His death is a tragedy at such a young age, and we send our deepest condolences to his partner, Dermot, and to the whole of his family. He was what any Member of Parliament would aspire to be in this House: he was warm, principled and independent-minded, even if that was not always comfortable for the leadership of our party. He fought for the causes that he believed in, he was Labour through and through, he will be missed throughout the labour movement, and I know that he will be missed throughout this House as well.
A year into his Government, how would the Prime Minister rate his handling of the NHS?
I think that the most important thing we have done is increase spending on the NHS, which is something that has happened only because of the commitment we made at the last election. So an extra £11.6 billion will be going into the NHS because of the decisions we have taken. In addition, there is a £200 million cancer drugs fund, so that people get the drugs they need and, for the first time in a long time, the number of doctors is growing very quickly and the number of bureaucrats is actually falling.
In case the Prime Minister did not realise, it takes seven years to train a doctor, so I would like to thank him for his congratulations on our record on the NHS. I have to say to him, if it is all going so well, why have we seen the number of people waiting for diagnosis rising again this morning? More than 10,000 people are waiting to get their tests, three times the number it was a year ago. I also noticed that he did not mention his top-down reorganisation when he talked about his handling of the NHS. Let me remind him of what he said just a month ago. He said:
“I’ve been involved in designing these changes way back into opposition with Andrew Lansley”.
Will he therefore confirm that the failing NHS plans are not the Health Secretary’s fault, but his?
The Leader of the Opposition himself has said that no change is not an option. We are seeing the usual empty opposition. I am glad that he mentioned waiting times, because, two weeks ago, at that Dispatch Box, he said that waiting times
“have risen month on month under this Government”.—[Hansard, 27 April 2011; Vol. 527, c. 169.]
That is not true. The figures, which he had at the time, show that in-patient waiting times fell from 9.1 to 9 weeks. For out-patients, they went down from 4.8 weeks to 3.5 weeks, the lowest for a year. It is important when we come to this House and make statements that are inaccurate that we correct the record at the first available opportunity.
Hold on. Would he like to take this opportunity to correct that specific mistake?
No, waiting times are rising. I notice that the Prime Minister did not even take the opportunity to take responsibility for the health policy. Where is the Health Secretary, after all? Where is he? It is becoming a pattern with this Prime Minister. This morning, in the papers, we saw the Universities Minister being dumped on for his tuition fees policy; we see the Schools Secretary being dumped on for his free schools policy; and the poor Deputy Prime Minister just gets dumped on every day of the week. The Prime Minister must believe that something has gone wrong with his health policy, because he has launched his so-called listening exercise. Can he reassure doctors, nurses and patients that it is a genuine exercise?
Of course it is a genuine exercise. Let me be clear: the right hon. Gentleman is wrong on the waiting times. The figures are clear and I shall place them in the Library of the House of Commons. Waiting times went down last month and he ought to have the guts and the courage to correct the record when he gets it wrong. He asks about my Health Secretary, and perhaps I can remind him of what his health spokesman has said. He said it this week. He said the general aims of the reform are sound. That is what he said. He said earlier, “I have no problem with the broad aim of the changes,” and went on to praise them. When I look at this, it all reminds me of Labour 30 years ago. They had a leader with the ratings of Michael Foot and he was being undermined by someone called Healey, as well.
We read in the papers about a PMQs makeover, but I have to say that it did not last very long. Flashman is back. Of course, the thing is that Flashman does not answer the questions, so let me ask the right hon. Gentleman again. Can he explain why the chief executive of the NHS, Sir David Nicholson, wrote to NHS staff on
I can absolutely guarantee that there will be significant and substantial changes to the reforms because we want to get them right and because we want to guarantee an NHS that is free at the point of use and available based on need rather than the ability
to pay. Unlike the Labour party, which is now cutting the NHS in Wales, this Government will put more money into the NHS.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about what is in the newspapers today, but he ought to be looking at the GPs representing 7 million patients who wrote to the papers today to say that this is evolution, not revolution, that it is good for patients, and that it will help some of the “most vulnerable” people in our community. I have to accept that some of the recent cultural references—Michael Winner, Benny Hill—are all a little out of date, but I must say that when I look at the right hon. Gentleman, who told us that the fight back would start in Scotland before going down to a massive defeat, he rather reminds me of Eddie the Eagle.
Let me congratulate the Prime Minister on getting 42 GPs to write to The Daily Telegraph supporting his plans. The Royal College of General Practitioners represents 42,000 GPs and it says—the Prime Minister said that he would protect the NHS, so I would have thought he would be embarrassed by this—that his plans will cause “irreparable damage” to the core values of the NHS. I do not know whether he even knows about the letter that David Nicholson sent, but the truth is that the Prime Minister’s pause is nothing more than a sham.
Why does not the right hon. Gentleman for once in his life actually deal with the substance of the reform? The truth of the matter is that he has said, quite rightly, that no change is not an option. We believe that no change is not an option and that is what the overwhelming amount of people in the NHS feel. Let us look at the elements of the reform: GP fundholding started under Labour and is now being improved under this coalition; foundation hospitals started under Labour and are now being taken forward by this coalition; payment by results—so that we make sure that we get good value for money in the NHS—started under Labour and is now being carried forward under this coalition. That is the point. He should be seriously engaging in how we make sure we have a strong NHS for all our people for the future. Instead, we have empty opposition, which got him absolutely nowhere last week.
In a phrase that the Prime Minister is familiar with, “Calm down, dear.” Calm down. Does not his mess on the NHS tell us all we need to know about this Prime Minister? He breaks his promises, he does not think things through and when the going gets tough, he dumps on his colleagues. On a day when waiting lists are rising, this confirms what we always knew about the Tories—you cannot trust the Tories on the NHS.
What we have seen is just the product of empty opposition and weak leadership. It is this Government who are putting more money into the NHS; it is this Government who are putting money into the cancer drugs fund; it is this Government who are seeing the number of doctors and nurses grow while the number of bureaucrats shrinks. It is this party that is defending the NHS and it is Labour in Wales that is cutting the NHS. That is the truth. There is only one party you can trust on the NHS and it is the one that I lead.
Order. There is far too much shouting in the Chamber and the Secretary of State for Education should not be shouting his head off—it is a very bad example to set to the nation’s schoolchildren.
I have a slightly calmer question, Mr Speaker. I am sure that the Prime Minister is aware that the fatal and incurable human brain disease variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is transferred through prions, blood products and surgical instruments. Recently, Professor Collinge and others at the Medical Research Council prion unit have produced an effective prion-deactivation instrument soak and a blood test for variant CJD, both of which could and should protect the public. Unfortunately, there has been a small financial hiccup in progressing those breakthroughs. Does the Prime Minister accept the importance of preventing this despicable disease, particularly for future generations, and will he meet me and Professor Collinge to discuss potential progress?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about a very dangerous disease and I would certainly be happy to arrange a meeting, probably between him and Professor Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, to discuss this. He will know that there have been various research studies into the impact of variant CJD on the population. We do not yet have all the answers that we need. Since 1990, there has been funding of the national CJD research and surveillance unit to the tune of £18 million, and through the Medical Research Council we have committed to providing £32 million to the national prion unit between 2010 and 2014. That should be the money that gets the answers that he so badly wants.
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 has served its purpose well over the years, but recently there has been a huge increase in incidents of cyber-stalking, sometimes with devastating consequences. Will the Prime Minister, in due course, meet me and a small delegation of Members from across the House who are concerned about the issue?
I am happy to hold that meeting with the right hon. Gentleman. We are trying to make sure that right across the board we take cybercrime seriously because there is a huge growth in it. Often it is about trying to take people’s money or about espionage, but the point that he makes about harassment is also important. We need to make sure that the strategy dealing with cyber takes full account of what he says.
The Labour Government took Britain to the brink of bankruptcy. The gap between rich and poor widened, and nearly 4 million children were left living below the poverty line. Last month, the coalition Government cut income tax, liberally helping millions of people, but I have to ask the Prime Minister this: if we are all in this together, what is he going to do about the obscenity of 1,000 multimillionaires boosting their personal wealth by 18% in the past year?
One of the things we absolutely will do—and we have put in the money to make sure it happens—is crack down on the tax evasion that takes place so widely in our country. The Treasury has put money into that campaign to make sure it happens. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Because of our coalition Government, we have lifted 1 million people out of income tax and, at the same time over the past year, we see exports up, private sector jobs up, the economy growing and borrowing down—all radically different from what would have happened if we had listened to the recipe from the Labour party.
On the subject of empty opposition, the Prime Minister castigated his predecessor for not proscribing the radical Islamist organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir, when the previous Prime Minister had been in post for a week. The right hon. Gentleman has now been in post for a year. I would like to give him the opportunity to castigate himself.
It is very kind of the right hon. Gentleman to give me that opportunity. We are clear that we must target groups that promote extremism, not just violent extremism. We have proscribed one or two groups. I would like to see action taken against Hizb ut-Tahrir, and that review is under way.
What estimate has my right hon. Friend made of the comments this week by the director general of the CBI on the Government’s deficit reduction plan?
In its history the CBI has not always supported action to tackle deficits and to get on top of bad public finances, but on this occasion it is four-square behind the action that the Government have taken. When asked what would have happened if we had followed the ideas of the Labour party, the CBI said:
“The economy would be weaker because of the impact of a loss of confidence in the markets.
If we did not have a clear programme to reduce the deficit over this parliament we would have seen a significant rise in our interest rates, and growth would have been eroded rather more than it has been”.
That is the view of the CBI—the experts at the heart of British industry, who say that one cannot trust Labour with the economy.
We will look closely at a Calman-like approach for Wales. If those results are the hon. Gentleman’s definition of success, I suppose he will be a happy man. He should spend a little time studying what his colleague, Mr Harris, said about Labour’s performance in Scotland:
“Labour deserved to lose. We insulted the intelligence of our voters by peddling a myth”.
That is what happened. I know Mr David does not want to hear about Scotland, but he ought to think about it.
Conservative-controlled Shropshire council has managed to make savings of £30 million while protecting front-line services. That has been achieved partly by a reduction in salaries for councillors and senior managers. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Shropshire council on this achievement, and is it not a shining example for other councils up and down the country to follow?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which is that up and down the country councils have been able to reduce back-office costs, bureaucracy and the pay of chief executives and crack down on council allowances and all those things in order to protect front-line services. It has happened in Shropshire and many other parts of the country and it is an example that should be followed.
The Prime Minister told me that the hacking inquiry should go where the evidence leads. It leads to the parents of the Soham children and to rogue intelligence officers. He knows of more sinister forms of cybercrime. Lord Fowler is calling for a judicial inquiry. Will the Prime Minister please order one now, before the avalanche of new evidence forces him to do so?
I think there is a real problem with interfering, which that would effectively do, with the criminal investigations that are taking place. The most important thing is to allow the criminal investigation to take place and, as I have said to the hon. Gentleman before, make sure that the police and the prosecuting authorities can follow the evidence wherever it leads. That is the most important thing that needs to happen.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the story of Robin Hood has parallels with a Government who are taxing bankers to build the big society, City fat cats to fund tax cuts for lower earners and oil barons to cut fuel prices? Will he invite disaffected Opposition Members to join a Government who help the poor and take away from the rich?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It was this Government who introduced a bank levy and used the money to help some of the poorest in our country. It is this Government who have taxed the oil companies at a time when the oil price is so high in order to cut petrol duties and help millions of people in our country. What a contrast with the Labour party; the action it took against the banks was to give Fred Goodwin a knighthood.
The Prime Minister knows about the real pressures faced by London’s emergency services, including those they will face in the run-up to the Olympics next year. What risk assessment has he made of the London ambulance service’s decision to cut 20% of its work force, including 560 front-line NHS staff?
I have discussed with London’s emergency services some of the challenges they face, not least the Olympics and the terrorist threat. All
organisations in this country are having to make savings and efficiencies and try to concentrate on the front line. That is what is happening in the police and elsewhere. The point about ambulance services and the NHS is that we are protecting spending on the NHS. There was, frankly, only one party that proposed that at the last election. If we had not proposed that, it would not be happening. We listened to the Labour party, including the former health spokesman, Alan Johnson, who spoke earlier, and they were going to cut the NHS. That would have affected the London ambulance service like everything else.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. For months the Opposition have been telling us that we should follow the American approach. It now emerges that the Obama deficit reduction programme will go exactly as fast, as quick and as deep as the proposals in the UK, so one of the planks of the good ship Balls has been completely holed below the waterline.
May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s tribute to David Cairns? David served with distinction as a Minister in Northern Ireland during the period of direct rule, and many people there have great respect for the work he did in Northern Ireland. The UK’s contribution to the bail-out for eurozone countries that find themselves in financial difficulties amounts to half the savings made in the deficit reduction plan in the UK this year, a fact that will stagger and appal many people in this country. Can the Prime Minister give an assurance that the UK will make no further contributions to the bail-out of those countries that have got into financial difficulties—
Order. I think we have the thrust of it and are grateful.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his re-election last week to the Northern Irish Assembly. The point that I would make is this: the only money that Britain has lent directly is to the Republic of Ireland, and I think it is actually in our national interest and, I would say, in the interests of Northern Ireland that we do not see a collapse in the economy in the Republic. That was a difficult decision but the right decision to make.
The other contingent liabilities on Britain flow through the finance mechanism in Europe, which we did not support the establishment of and have negotiated to get rid of when the new arrangements come in in 2013, and we will do everything that we can to safeguard Britain’s finances.
Can the Prime Minister confirm that, if any part of the United Kingdom decided to leave the Union, although part of the national debt would follow them, a continuation of subsidy from the remaining British taxpayers would not?
Of course I can confirm that, but I believe that everyone in this House who believes in the United Kingdom and the future of the United Kingdom should join together and make sure that we fight off the threat of the idea of breaking up our United Kingdom. I do not believe that we will achieve that by threats, or by saying that small countries cannot make it; I believe that the way we will make that argument is by saying that being part of the United Kingdom is good for Scotland, and that Scotland being part of the United Kingdom is good for the rest of the United Kingdom. I want us to make an uplifting and optimistic case for why we are better off together. That is what all of us who support our Union should do, and I for one will certainly play my part.
Now that the referendum is out the way—incidentally, nobody asked for it and nobody wanted it, except for the Liberals, or Bob, Rag and Ragtail here—[ Interruption. ] I did not want it—[ Interruption. ] I did not want it. Yet, Prime Minister, a survey done a few weeks ago said that 70% of the British people wanted a referendum on Europe. It is in the Liberal manifesto, although that does not mean much, and more than half your Back Benchers want a referendum as well. When are the people going to get the referendum on Europe?
The hon. Gentleman says that the referendum on the alternative vote was something nobody wanted, but I have to remind him that it was in his manifesto. I know that it was a pretty turgid document, and he might want to have a word with the author about how to improve things next time, but I would recommend reading the manifesto before you stand for the party.
Given the high demand from the public to attend the consultation events on the future of children’s cardiac services in Southampton, will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in calling for additional events so that the maximum number of people in the wider Southampton area can participate?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, and in the review of child cardiac services—this affects my constituency as well as hers, and people are talking about how Southampton and Oxford should work together—I think that there should be as many events as people want to go to, as much transparency as possible and, if specialisation is necessary, as much explanation as possible about why it is necessary and why it is good for patients. In the end that must be the test of everything we do in the NHS.
We know what a number of the right hon. Gentleman’s Ministers think about the adoption of the fourth budget proposed by the Committee on Climate Change, but what does he think about it? Will he press for the adoption of that budget when the Cabinet meets to discuss it, as we are reliably informed it will?
We will respond in full to the House on the fourth carbon budget. It is very important that we get that right. We have strict timetables and
targets laid out in terms of our carbon reduction, and this Government are committed to making sure that we meet those.